New Books and ARCs, 7/14/17

Here’s a very fine Bastille Day selection of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi compound in the last week or so. What’s ringing your bell here? Tell us in the comments!

The Unsolicted Review: Poo-Pourri

Some members of the Scalzi Household — I won’t say which ones for privacy’s sake — occasionally do a thing called “pooping.” Look it up on Google if you’re not sure what that is. And while pooping is generally a laudable and healthy activity, it also sometimes leaves a certain odor.

Someone I know recommended “Poo-Pourri” as a way to counteract the particular odor of the activity: You spray a bit into the toiletbowl prior to the event and the poo-pourri essentially forms a citrus-scented barrier on the top of the water in the bowl, preventing other odors from escaping. I got a bottle to see if it actually works.

My verdict, after a week: Yes, it does mostly work, although whether it works because of the advertised barrier of essential oils or just because the blast of citrusy smell from the stuff is so concentrated that it simply overpowers any other smell is (if you’ll excuse the pun) up in the air. Either way, the citrus nasal bomb is preferable to the alternative.

Does it work better than, say, Febreeze or a scented candle? Maaaybe? I mean, the fact of the matter is whichever way you go, the scent of the room is “the scent of the thing I employed to avoid my bathroom smelling of poo,” so you won’t be fooling anyone anyway. That being the case, might as go with a scent you like.

In any event, if you or someone in your household poops, and want to avoid poop smell, and wish to deal with the odor before rather than immediately after the incident, and intense citrus is your thing, this stuff seems to do the trick.

How to Screw Up a Triumphant Bestselling Debut

I’ll preface this by noting I think Milo Yiannopoulos is a real piece of shit human being who I’d be delighted to see tossed into the metaphorical oubliette of uncaring oblivion. But, when I saw some people having schadenfreude over Yiannopoulos’ book sales of Dangerous, which were reportedly only a fifth of his self-asserted sales numbers, I had a moment of “well, actually,” as in, “well, actually, that real piece of shit human being might not be lying about his sales.”

Here’s the deal: Yiannopoulos has asserted his book’s opening week sales were on the order of 100,000 copies. Contrasting this, Nielsen Bookscan, the service which tracks physical book sales via many (but not all) booksellers, including Amazon, has his first week sales as 18,268 in the US (and — heh — 152 in the UK). As most of us probably know, 18,000 is less than 100,000.

Or is it? Because here’s the thing about Bookscan — it doesn’t in fact track all sales of a book. It doesn’t track eBook sales, for example, nor does it track audiobook sales. Nor does it track sales from some small independent booksellers, who might have not signed up to be Bookscan-reporting retailers. As a result, depending on how much you sell in other formats, and where you sell your books, Bookscan can massively underreport your total sales.

I know this because that’s what Bookscan does with me. A couple of years ago I tracked the sales of the hardcover era of Lock In (which is to say, all the sales reported while the physical book was only available in hardcover). For the time it was in hardcover, Bookscan reported 11,175 hardcover sales in the US. However, overall the book sold about 22,500 copies in hardcover and about 87,500 copies across all formats (hardcover, ebook, audio).

In all, Bookscan recorded roughly 12.7% of my total sales. Which is not a lot! If Yiannopoulos were seeing a similar sort of ratio, based on his physical copy sales, he could indeed have sold something on the order of 100,000 copies of his book in the first week. He might not be lying.

With all that said, on further examination, this is why I very strongly suspect that Yiannopoulos has not, in fact, sold, 100,000 copies of his book in the first week:

One, my sales numbers included audio; cursory examination of Yiannopoulos’ Amazon book page shows he does not have an audio version of the book available — important because Audible, the major audiobook sales channel in the US, is owned by Amazon, and would definitely have the audiobook noted for sale on the Amazon sales page. That eliminates an entire sales channel.

Two, I suspect (but have no evidence) that Yiannopoulos is strongly relying on Amazon to sell his book, rather than having some large percentage of retail sales come through brick-and-mortar book sellers, and specifically does not have an advantage that I and other genre authors have, which is specialty bookstores selling our books. My Bookscan numbers skew low precisely because I sell a lot through indie and specialty book stores, which don’t report to Bookscan. If Yiannopoulos is relying primarily on Amazon — which would make sense, given the push to preorder there, the online nature of his alt-right audience, and the fact that it’s easier to set up sales through Amazon than through the distribution channels of physical book stores — then his Bookscan numbers would capture a far higher percentage of his sales than, say, it would of mine.

Third, there’s this comment from Yiannopoulos’s camp:

It’s true that the major booksellers only managed to ship out 18,000 copies to retail customers by the list cutoff. But that’s because they didn’t order enough ahead of time, and have been scrambling to play catchup ever since. The real news is that we’ve received wholesale orders and direct orders of such magnitude that our entire stock of 105,000 books is already accounted for.

This is a little bit of publishing inside pool which apparently Yiannopoulos is not aware of (or is trying to fudge), but: You don’t count wholesale orders because wholesalers will eventually return books if they don’t sell them. The publisher has to make them whole for that, either by shifting credit to other books (which in this case Yiannopoulos as a self-publisher of a single book does not have), or by refunding the money. Yiannopoulos may have shipped 105,000 hardcover copies of the book, but that’s not the same as having sold them. I don’t know in this case what “direct orders” mean — it could be sales to individual book buyers (in which case that would be a sale) or to individual booksellers (in which case they are probably returnable, as book stores are loath to stock anything on a non-returnable basis), or to organizations which are making a “bulk buy” for their own reasons, say, a conservative organization who wants to hand out copies to employees or on the street or whatever.

But however you slice it, by Yiannopoulos’ own words (and by his apparent lack of understanding of how bookselling works), he probably has not in fact sold all 100k of the hardcover books. Also, with regard to the wholesalers and other booksellers, I do hope someone in his organization is keeping money in reserve to deal with returns when they (inevitably) happen. I’m also curious as to how he as a self-publisher is dealing with long-term storage and shipping of the books; I really don’t see Yiannopoulos himself handling that. I don’t picture him as a detail-oriented person. Perhaps this will be a job for the interns.

With all of this said, and again with the reminder that I find Yiannopoulos a hot feculent mess of a person, sales of 18,000 hardcovers in one week is pretty darn good. It was enough to land Yiannopoulos at #3 on the USA Today list and at #4 on the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction list (and #2 on the paper’s print/ebook combined list). He’s a legitimate bestseller. And those 18K sales don’t cover ebook sales, which given his audience demographics I suspect are pretty high. Most authors would be absolutely delighted to have 18k in hardcover sales in their first week. People exercising schadenfreude about all this are thus advised to temper their glee somewhat. The book is not a failure in any manner except in contrast to Yiannopoulos’ industry-specific hype, and also (if the professional reviews are to be believed) as a book worth reading.

(Incidentally, the first week sales also show that Simon & Schuster, who were to publish the book until they didn’t, had really rather accurately priced the book when they offered Yiannopoulous a $250,000 advance on it. An 18K first week would have put it on a sales track to zero out that $250k advance in a year or two, depending on eventual paperback sales. It would have made money for S&S, and possibly broke even for Yiannopoulos.)

Can Yiannopoulos sell 100,000 copies of his book? I suspect so in the long run, especially considering that Yiannopoulos can now have it as a rider for speaking events that whomever is having him speak will be obliged to purchase a certain number of the book in order to have him appear — and speaking events and appearances are the actual bread-and-butter for a creature such as Yiannopoulos, for which this book is mostly advertising.

Has he sold that many in the first week? I doubt it. The actual number, in all formats, across all retailers, is somewhere between 18,000 and 100,000 copies. Which, again, is not at all a bad number of books to sell in the first week. Had Yiannopoulos been smart, he wouldn’t have alleged selling 100K books in his first week at all, he simply would have taken those USA Today and NYT list rankings and waved them about happily, and built PR around those.

But apparently he’s not really that smart. Now most of the stories are about how he only sold 18,000 copies in his first week, rather than the 100,000 copies he alleged. Well done him.

The Big Idea: Jason LaPier

Home is where the heart is, but what does “home” mean, and does it mean the same thing for everyon. Author Jason LaPier has thoughts on this topic, and what it means for his latest novel Under Shadows, and the series of books to which it belongs.

JASON LaPIER:

The Dome Trilogy centers on three characters with three very different backgrounds. There’s “Jax” Jackson, who grew up in a dome on planet in the Barnard’s Star system, living a sheltered life and by his late twenties, working as a life support system operator. Stanford Runstom was born in completely unsheltered circumstances; his mother was an undercover detective for years, and when it came time for her to come back in, she opted to live out the next decade in a ship, honing her intelligence networks and staying on the move. Runstom was born in space, and his childhood home was this interstellar craft and the various ports and outposts it had occasion to visit; a life mirrored when he grew up to become a cop. Lastly, Dava was born on Earth, a planet on which human life has divided between plush arcologies and abject poverty. As a child, Dava lived underground until her parents won the “Earth Kin Rescue” lottery and were able to board an ark bound for the colonies. When Dava awoke from hypersleep, she’d become an orphan and was dumped into foster care in the domes. Her erratic upbringing eventually led her to crime.

As these three characters confront their immediate challenges and obstacles, they are distracted from identifying the real things they want for their own lives. But like a system that seeks equilibrium, they each unconsciously unveil their true internal goals. And they are surprised to find those goals have evolved from the obvious to something unexpected.

When Jax was a domer, he lacked drive and ambition. His only goal was to pay his bills. When the false accusation of murdering a block of residents under his watch forces Jax to become a fugitive, his immediate concerns become those of survival and freedom. He gets a taste of domeless life in an independent colony on the moon of a gas giant, and finds inspiration in the vibrancy, diversity, cooperation, and perseverance of the population. This manifests later when Jax is given the chance to do his part in protecting the colony’s way of life. It’s then that he realizes after all his trials, he doesn’t want to go back home to the domes, but instead wants to make a new home.

Runstom dedicated his life to the pursuit of justice, but had trouble advancing his career. Though he’d rather be a detective, he finds himself in a public relations role at the policing-for-hire company he works for. Respecting his mother’s need to stay under the radar, he maintains minimal contact with her. And yet, she sees all, and when they have a chance to be reunited, the stoically independent Runstom realizes how badly he misses his mother’s advice and love. Their separate and nomadic lives become much less bearable to him.

In and out of foster homes, Dava considered herself rescued when crime boss – and fellow ex-Earthling – Moses Down recruited her. From then on, she only concerned herself with being a good right hand to Down. He pushes her into leadership, and under his influence she tries her best. When she has to take the reins and decide what is best for the crime family, she realizes she wants to offer them something different. Moses Down brought the outcasts together and made them into a family, but Dava must find that family a place to call home.

And so the thing that unifies these three very different characters is that eventual goal to create a new home for themselves. Which explicitly means leaving previous notions of home behind, and recognizing the shadows of the past for what they are: merely shadows. This is the defining theme that I used to drive the character arcs through to the conclusion of the trilogy.

I was born in Saratoga, NY, near Albany. At the age of five, I was registered for kindergarten, but I would never attend that school; instead, my parents separated and we moved four hours away, to Elmira, NY. This was the first big shift in my sense of home, but I would spend the next twenty years in this small town. Finally, at the age of twenty-six, I’d had enough of Upstate and moved to Brooklyn in September, 2001. 9/11 came, and I was never able to make NYC my home. After six rough months of being unable to set roots into a disrupted city, I needed to escape from New York, and so I catapulted across the country to Oregon. Lacking in friends, family, and money, this is the part of my life I drew upon when thinking about what it means to learn how to make a home from scratch.

So the Big Idea here is that home is a malleable concept, and what you are born into is not necessarily what you are destined to call home. This became the core internal driver as I brought these three characters to the conclusion of this trilogy: they would each, in their own way, learn to define what home means to them.

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Under Shadows: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Kobo

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